John W. Whitley, art restorer, was born in Eagle Lake, Texas, in 1888. He never knew his parents and practically raised himself, although he did have the help of Elizabeth Whitley, whom he called his aunt. From the age of ten he lived as a servant in the home of Howard Ciscero, until he went off to school. Whitley attended Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. While at Tuskegee Institute he was acquainted with George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, who became his mentors. Prior to going into business for himself, Whitley worked for Dewey Bradford, a paint and wallpaper company, from 1920 to 1948. Whitley then operated Whitley's Ten Talent Shop, a restoration and repair business. He repaired or restored vintage artwork in Austin and other cities across the state and the nation. In Austin Whitley framed, repaired, or touched up nearly every piece of artwork hanging inside the state Capitol, including pieces in the rotunda and the House of Representatives. He also helped in the restoration of the Driskill Hotel and the Governor's Mansion. Even the J. Frank Dobie collections of the University of Texas bear the mark of his restoration. In 1916 Whitley married Julia A. Merida; she died in 1943. In 1947 he married Alene Bryant Miller, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1948. In 1959 he married Deborah Price, to whom he was married until his death. In 1928 Whitley was one of the seventy-five founders of the Olivet Baptist Church in Austin, for which he served as Sunday school superintendent for twelve years and chairman of deacons and trustee for twenty-five years. At a late age he became a minister. Whitley died of cancer on October 16, 1981.
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Austin American-Statesman, October 19, 1981.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Whitley, John W.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 20, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1996
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: